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UK banking customers sent two-thirds more money through 'Faster Payments' in 2011's final quarter, compared with the same three months in 2010, the Payments Council's latest quarterly statistical report reveals.

The Faster Payments Service is a system used by some banks and building societies that enables customers to make payments almost instantly online or over the phone - compared with the old system which can take days.

According to the figures, 144 million Faster Payments were made between October and December last year, amounting to more than £76 billion - a substantial increase from £46 billion in the same period in 2010. Furthermore, the number of transactions made through Faster Payments saw a 23% increase year-on-year.

The rises coincide with new European legislation, which came into effect at the beginning of 2012, which essentially made Faster Payments the default system for processing phone banking, online and standing order payments in the UK.

As a result, significant work was undertaken last year to increase the reach of Faster Payments to banking customers - and nearly 100% of UK sort codes can now send and receive faster payments. Indeed, by December 2011, 81% of standing orders were sent via the service, compared with 64% a year before.

2011 also marked a record year for withdrawals from cash machines, beating the previous high in 2008. In total, people used cash machines 2.87 billion times throughout 2011 - withdrawing £191 billion - and the vast majority of these transactions were free.

In contrast, one area of payments that fell consistently last year was the number of cheques cleared: 12% fewer (worth £682 million) than in 2010 (£776 million). However, this decline appeared to have little to do with the closure of the Cheque Guarantee Card Scheme on 30th June 2011 - with Guaranteed cheques accounting for just 7% of total cheque volumes in the year leading up to the Scheme's closure.

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